This meeting is a favourite in the calendar. It has been gently expanded by organiser Vincent Collard from a medium sized meeting in the Nineties to the current 650-car-plus sized event.
Numerous “F1 trucks” have sadly replaced the waffle stalls, the battered estate tow-cars and the rusty trailers of the Nineties. The size of the meeting would require a large team from ViaRETRO to cover every grid and every car. My apologies to those that I could not meet up with and for my lack of notes on the classic car park!
The earlier (and smaller) 3 Hour Spa Summer Classic meeting was held during the heatwave at the end of June (33-34°C!). The Spa Six Hours is infamous for its changing weather and sure enough it was a deluge for Thursday testing, sun for qualifying on Friday, and a soggy Saturday at 11°C. Intermittency between rain, drizzle and dry spells transformed the track into a “gras mouillé” skid pan. Lap times were almost irrelevant in the Six Hours until the final laps: It was the time in the pits that settled most scores.
The coefficient of slipperiness is very difficult to gauge from the trackside. Indeed, the first twenty laps of the Six Hours enduro gave the impression that the competitors were under safety car rules. Richard Meaden (Lotus Elan 26R) was rather offended when I asked why the entire field were going so slowly (was I questioning his ability?!) but explained: “It is super slippery…there is no grip at all”. I had wondered if the track was indeed partly covered in oil: it was simply “very slippery when wet”.
The photos tell the rest of the story better than I can recount it. With respect to the stunning field of interesting people and cars, I have chosen the following snippets:
Ford Sierra Cosworth RS 500 (participating in U2TC, HTCC and Tony Dron Trophy)
This is the ex-Andy Rouse car that ran in Class A of the 1989 BTCC and won its class in 6 of the 13 rounds. It was brought out by Jeremy Welch (Denis Welch Motorsport – one of the longstanding race Austin-Healey and Jaguar specialists in the paddock) for owner Julian Thomas and co-pilote Calum Lockie.
How easy is this car to drive? Julian describes it: “like a turbine needing very fast gear changes” and continued: “balanced on the edge of sliding…to avoid spinning on a sixpence”.
Intrigued by this, Julian confided that the car did a 2:43 in qualifying (as fast as the fastest Ford GT qualification for the 6-hour race) and could top 255 km/h (159mph) on the Kemmel Straight (uphill section from the Raidillon). The 570 bhp from the Cosworth engine which runs through a Getrag dogleg gearbox seems to be very convincing!
The team came 2nd in the first race to Stephen Dance (Capri) but retired in the second race (also won by Dance). The race had a magical combination of BMWs (CSL, M3 e30, 1600ti and 1800ti), Cortinas, Escorts, Metros and Minis.
TR4 SLR (participating in the 6 Hour race)
This seemed to be the “mystery car” of this event, as just one was built in early 1964! This project is the result of hard work by TR Enterprises in Nottingham (GB) to produce a FIA approved “continuation” model.
In period, the original SLR (Sprinzel Lawrence Racing) was a one-off project produced from Neil Dangerfield’s re-purposed 1962 Triumph TR4 (re-using an old registration “SAH137”) in late 1963 and subsequently unveiled at the Racing Car show in 1964. The Williams & Pritchard aluminium body was assembled by Chris Lawrence to participate in the short-lived Group 3 Appendix J category.
Further cars (now using Morgan chassis but with the same engine) were made (see the red Morgan SLR photo). The original car was driven to and raced at Spa Francorchamps, Goodwood, the Nürburgring and Monza.
This continuation is described by Simon Watson of TR Enterprises as “very much as standard”, partly as the FIA holds it to a TR4 946 kg homologation weight (116 kg more than a MGB…and a staggering 366 kg more than a Lotus Elan!). This car was commissioned and entered by Brian White who set a very impressive (dry) qualifying time of 3:04. Sadly, the car was “nudged” in the race and retired after 4 hours 33 minutes having completed 74 laps.
Racing the Family?
I spent some time exchanging old stories with Tom and Doug Smith of MG Motorsport. Tom was taking part in the Six Hour race with the MGB N°219 entered by Sjoerd Peereboom (with Jasper Izaaks). This car pushed through to become first MGB home in a creditable 17th place.
Racing is quite a family affair. Here are just a few examples!
Within the “MGB class” of the 6 hours, the legendary MGCC brothers Russell and Spencer McCarthy had a fierce battle on the track. The new paintwork of the passenger side of Simon Cripp’s immaculate MGB (N° 41 and finished 42nd) was tested against the driver’s side of Neil Fowler’s white MGB (N° 91 and 25th). Very little wriggle room on the track was apparently left by Russell for Spencer…
Elsewhere on the grid, father Anthony and son Ollie Hancock in the light blue Lotus Elan prepared by Tom Ebbs (a staggeringly impressive 4th overall) were hunting down brother Sam Hancock in the 3rd placed N°93 Ford GT.
Two teams bravely changed gearboxes during the 6H race. Raceworks managed to change the clutch and gearbox of Elan N° 85 in just under an hour after the AP clutch broke up. This robbed Andrew Lawley of half of his stint.
Equipe Europe also changed the gearbox of the Ford GT N°84 (Guenat/Guenat/Mahé). This obviously offered easier accessibility than the Elan. Both operations were done calmly in good humour.
Many, many cars were damaged in the traffic of the Six Hours race during hors piste excursions or from carelessness in assessing night-time braking distances. Over 40 cars were out of the race by the end! Many cars were temporarily patched up with tape but this hides a sad situation which discourages entrants with interesting cars.
The paddock was alive with rumours of Ford GTs in difficulty (were two rolled?) but it is difficult to keep track of 17 Ford GT entrants (of a total of 101 entrants) in the dark.
But how does this happen between gentleman drivers (“old enough to know better”) in races where there are no prizes? I am sure that la gente feminine might have some valid points to make.
However, to be very direct and to the point, big Ford saloons and coupés (Ford Galaxie, Falcon and Mustangs) were simply not designed for high speed handling in the Ardennes in the wet and the dark. I did not see a single big Ford retaining undamaged bodywork. Instead, I did see wagging fingers…
Three manufacturers were present at the event. The Jaguar Classic race (2 x XK120s, 1 x D-type and 20 x E-types) was a spectacular presentation. This was won by the Farrell/Coyne E-type, but the fastest lap was set by Stefan Ziegler (3:32 in the wet).
Ford Belgium encouraged “GT40” owners to make the pilgrimage to Spa to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Ickx’s “seat belt moment” and not least the outright victory at Le Mans in 1969. This allowed comparison between the real racers (mostly 4.7-litre “continuations”), the kit versions and the three later modern Ford US permutations.
However, the “GT40” anniversary was merely a demonstration event. The racing anniversary was in fact provided by the GT40s finishing the Six Hours race in 1st (Walker/Griffiths/Sheddon) in front of the Aston Martin DB4 DP214 (Friedrichs/Hadfield/Mallock) and another GT40 taking 3rd (Ditting/Hancock).
Last but not least, Classic Team Lotus supported approximately 10 cars and brought along – to my immense joy – one of my heroes, Bob Dance, who is well known as one of the late Jim Clark’s mechanics. In a separate article, I hope to cover “anorak” points of detail on the 1963 Lotus 25 / R / 4 provided by the original Team Lotus mechanic, Bob Dance, from the car’s exceptionally knowledgeable owner, John Bowers and Andy Middlehurst, who raced the car at the event. Watch this space…